He won’t be the oldest man on the field in the Gaelic Grounds tomorrow — Limerick midfielder and captain Donal O’Grady (33), pips him to that honour — but when it comes to Munster final appearances, Cork’s Tom Kenny will be by far the most experienced.
Ten years ago, a pup of 21, Grenagh’s finest played in his first, a win over Waterford in what would become one of the great Munster rivalries.
Since then he has played in four more, winning two; this then is his sixth senior final appearance and, he says, every bit as exciting as his first.
“Any Munster final is an occasion. Anyone you talk to, the Munster championship is nearly on a par with the All-Ireland. You savour every Munster final and the build-up — it’ll be a different experience going to the Gaelic Grounds for one, previously they’ve all been in Thurles or Cork. It’s good from a neutral point of view that it’s a Limerick-Cork final for the first time in 21 years, that’ll only add to the excitement and the hype.”
The odd thing though, says Kenny, the contradictory thing if you like: he’s more nervous now than he was back in 2003. In fact, he says, nerves weren’t a factor at all then.
“Not that I can recall. Funnily enough, it’s kind of ironic in that I feel as you get older, you get more nervous because you’re thinking about it more. In your first Munster final, you’re thinking, ‘This is great, it’s the Munster final, let’s get out and play’. While Jimmy and the management will be telling the players what to do, some of it will go in subconsciously but then you’re wanting to go and play.”
That makes for good news then for Jimmy, given Cork have so many Munster final debutantes. But it is even better news for Limerick’s John Allen with even more greenhorns.
“It’s good for them to be in a Munster final and experience the enjoyment of it. As you get older you feel a bit more nervous and your stomach would be churning, but that’s a good sign too, being nervous.”
In fact, Kenny reckons, it’s often the older players feeding off the younger ones rather than the other way around, a sentiment also expressed a few weeks ago here by experienced Clare captain Patrick Donnellan. “Definitely, yes, when you’re in the dressing room and you see the younger players having the craic and going on about college. Séamus Harnedy (hugely impressive championship debutant in the semi-final win over Clare) was slagging me the other night about playing U21, that I wouldn’t be playing with them (nine on the Cork senior panel) — I told him it was 11 years since I played U21! It keeps you young, as opposed to us auld fellas sitting in the corner and complaining about aches and pains!”
He’s seen a lot of change in those 10 years, most particularly Cork’s fall from grace. Back then, and coming off the back of a confrontation with the county board, they were about to embark on a run of four All-Ireland final appearances in a row, winning two. Now, and a couple more confrontations later, Cork have been lost in Kilkenny’s dust.
With the Cats having been beaten in last year’s Leinster final, however, beaten again in Leinster this year (albeit they recovered to win last year’s All-Ireland yet again), there is a feeling generally that hurling is about to witness a changing of the guard. “There have been a few interesting weekends alright but every time you go out (to play) you do so with the sense and the intention that you can change the guard.
“Okay, we haven’t been up there the last number of years but maybe a changing of the guard is coming because of time catching up with them (Kilkenny) rather than teams catching up with them. Only time will tell but you’d like to think that with Cork back in the Munster final and young players coming through that have won Fitzgibbons, that that can be the foundation for a few years for Cork.”
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